Locally, it’s become a favorite season of the year and this year’s blueberry season in Lake County kicked off in March and is expected to continue through May. Eager blueberry lovers should pick to their heart’s content since blueberries are widely considered a “super food” that’s low in calories and high in nutrients and antioxidants. Due to weather and changing field and berry conditions, U-pick hours and pricing can change, so it's recommended that pickers call farms prior to visiting. Here's the list of local U-Pick blueberry farms and their u-pick hours:
AMBER BROOKE FARMS
36111 County Road 44A, Eustis U-pick Hours: Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Extras: This farm has lots of family-friendly activities to last for hours, including a playground, bounce pillow, slides, sunflower picking, and various special events. Phone: 352-973-1963
BLUE BAYOU FARMS (ORGANIC)
8222 County Road 48, Yalaha U-pick hours: Open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Extras: This farm also has U-pick blackberries available. The farm’s store sells a variety of housemade moonshine available for sale and sampling. Condiments, fresh baked treats and savories are also available. Phone: 352-267-5277
FAR REACH RANCH
1255 South Dora Blvd., Tavares U-pick Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays: 10 am - 4 p.m., weather permitting Extras: Saturdays feature live music, Thursdays feature a Hayride Happy Hour from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a full bar. The farm also sells a variety of jams and other foods and condiments. Phone: (352) 343-7389
Once again, colorful sails will gracefully litter Lake Dora near the end of March. The 70th Annual Mount Dora Sailing Regatta is expected to draw dozens of boats over the two-day event spanning March 25 and 26. Read more
It was one of the area’s most anticipated projects and a projected boon to the local economies of two Lake County cities. The proposed Tav-Dora Trail was planned to connect Mount Dora and Tavares along the railway corridor that currently connects the downtowns of the two cities. If the project’s outcome was anything like the success of West Orange Trail’s effect on Winter Garden, residents could have seen improvement in both quality of life and property values.
In the spring of 2020, the two cities, Lake County, Florida Central Railroad Company and CSX Transportation (CSX) were all supportive of the trail concept. Florida Central Railroad owns the actual railroad tracks and CSX owns the property the tracks are on. In April 2020, both companies expressed their support of the project in letters to Lake County and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
On April 27, 2020, the CSX regional manager sent a letter to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation in Washington D.C. stating the company was “pleased to support the Cities of Tavares, Mount Dora, and Lake County’s efforts to acquire a BUILD grant for acquisition of CSXT’s freight rail corridor under a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) and the development of the Wekiva Connector Extension.” The letter continued, “We believe this project to provide a safe and convenient path will benefit the many residents of the area. In order to support the project, CSXT is willing to discuss a sale of the corridor to Lake County. We appreciate Lake County’s willingness to submit the grant application and manage the grant upon award.”
CSX’s letter also noted they had not attempted to set forth all of the essential terms of a potential sale and purchase of the corridor, but the minimum price would be $15,000,000. The correspondence also stipulated that the letter of support wasn’t binding, but rather a basis for the parties to negotiate a definitive agreement in the future.
WIth all stakeholders on the same page, Lake County, Mount Dora, and Tavares spent considerable time and money to advance the project and seek a Federal BUILD grant to help fund the acquisition of the property from CSX.
Fast forward to November, 2022, and CSX abruptly announced it was no longer going to sell the rail corridor. “CSX is committed to serving our customers and positioning the company for future growth. As such, we are working to preserve our regulated corridors to support the company’s long-term business needs,” said the company’s spokesperson.
If CSX does not return to the table, other alternatives for the Tav-Dora Trail are being considered. One option is for the trail to be built in the railroad’s right of way (ROW) next to the rail line. A second option is to construct a trail in the Old Highway 441 ROW, rather than CSX’s rail ROW. The options will take time to flush out in preliminary cost and funding, so the recent reversal of CSX significantly extends the amount of time before shovels could hit the dirt to construct a trail.
ABOVE: Schematic rendering of new Wooton Park playground design. (scroll down for alternate angle schematic)
It’s been over two years since the City of Tavares sought proposals for the redesign of Wooton Wonderland playground located inside Wooton Park. Today the wooden playground closed so construction of the new play area could begin. The redesigned playground is expected to be completed in early 2023. The other parts of Wooton Park, including its Splash Pad, will remain open. However, the popular children’s water feature will be refurbished as part of this project. Those dates will be announced at a later date.
Wooton Wonderland, a creative and rustic playground, has been an important part of downtown Tavares for decades. Completed in 1992, the original Wooton Wonderland was a community effort spearheaded by the Tavares Junior Woman’s Club, the Kiwanis Club and community donations. Over the years, it became one of the favorite playgrounds in the area.
On May 19, 2021, Tavares City Council approved the new schematic design of the playground and authorized the project. The City’s public works department engaged engineering and architectural firms to meet modern-day playground standards, including ADA accessibility and inclusiveness. On June 22, 2022, the construction bid process was concluded and the project was awarded to Marbek construction.
To complement the existing seaplane theme in Wooton Park, the new playground will feature a net airplane for climbing, as well as a control tower play structure with a slide and other elements (see renderings below). The majestic live oak trees will remain and provide shade to the area.
Wooton Park is located at the downtown Tavares waterfront at 100 E. Ruby Street in Tavares.
To increase the cycling amenities in Mount Dora, a pump track and an 18-jump flow trail are currently being added to the Forres Park side of the existing mountain bike trails.
A pump track is a loop that, when designed and ridden properly, does not require pedaling. Instead, riders rely on an up-and-down “pumping” action done along a series of rollers (gentle hills), banked turns and other features that allows them to gain or maintain forward momentum.
Similarly, a flow trail has terrain with jumps and berms which allows riders to mostly pump and flow, rather than pedal. The surface of a flow trail is smoother than the more rough and rugged mountain bike trails, making it suitable for various levels of riders. Mount Dora’s new trails will be funded and maintained by the Ocala Mountain Bike Association and were designed by Natural Trail Building.
The goal is for the top section of Mount Dora’s new trail, including the kids’ trail, to be open by June 1. The longer section is anticipated to be finished by fall, 2022.
Currently, Mount Dora Mountain Bike Trail features eleven trails ranging from easy to difficult. Riders enter the year-round trails at Lincoln Avenue Park just east of the dog park area. The next-closest mountain bike trails are the 290-miles of the Santos Trails which are located near Ocala.
The new flow trails are adjacent to Forres Park located at 1550 E 9th Avenue in Mount Dora. The entrance to the older section of Mount Dora Mountain Bike Trail at Lincoln Community Park is located at 1550 E 11th Avenue.
Just in time for climbing temperatures, the area’s public pools and splash pads have opened for the season. Here’s what you need to know before slathering up the sunscreen in Mount Dora and Tavares.
MOUNT DORA’S LINCOLN AVENUE POOL Pool guests can enjoy open swim sessions, take lessons or just swim laps. Admission to the pool is $2.00 and children under age 2 are admitted for free. Children under 12 years of age must be accompanied by an adult in the pool. The adult must be actively participating with the child in the water. Monthly passes are $24 per month and $50 for a family.
On June 6, the American Red Cross will start group swim lessons. The 30-minute swim lessons are Monday through Thursday for two weeks. Additional information about the pool, open swim, new aquatic programs and swim class registration can be found on the City's website.
Hours of Operation (starting June 6): Monday - Thursday: 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. Friday: 8 a.m.- 1 p.m Saturday: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m Sunday: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m TAVARES SPLASH PAD Located at Wooton Park on the downtown Lakefront, the Tavares seaplane-themed splash pad reopened on April 30 for weekend fun. It will be open seven days a week beginning on June 6 for kids to cool off throughout the summer. Admission is $2 for anyone entering the splash pad’s fenced areas. Season passes are available at The Prop Shop at the seaplane base. . Hours of Operation: June 6 through early August: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. seven days a week EUSTIS AQUATIC CENTER This public pool is located in Ferran Park. The City did not respond to requests for the facility's hours and admission cost, however residents can call the City at 352-589-4040 for details.
ABOVE: A view from Blue Springs Run on a day with over 600 manatees in the run. (Mount Dora Buzz file photo)
It’s nature like you’ve never seen it. On chilly days the spectacle of hundreds of gentle manatees easing through crystal-clear water is what awaits nature lovers visiting Blue Springs State Park. Located about 35 miles northeast of Mount Dora, the approximately 2,600-acre park features pristine Blue Spring, the largest natural spring on the St. Johns River and a designated warm-water refuge for manatees during Florida’s winter months. The spring’s year-round water temperature of 72 degrees attracts hundreds of West Indian manatees from November through March. On a recent chilly day, over 600 manatees were counted by the park’s staff.
At times, visitors can also see hundreds of large fish, including tarpon, gar, redfish and black drum, that take refuge in the warmer water of the spring run. The park is also home to Florida scrub jays and water birds like anhingas, cormorants, herons and egrets.
The focal point of the park is Blue Spring Run, a crystal-clear inlet connecting the St. John’s River to Blue Spring. The run is lined by the lush Pine Island Trail, 3.6 miles of a one-way boardwalk ending at the spring. Blue Spring is a steeply banked emerald pool featuring an impressive spring vent at its center which leads to an underwater cave system.
To keep the protected manatees safe during their stay in Blue Spring Run, the spring and spring run are closed to all water-related activities including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and boating, from approximately mid-November through March. However, canoe and kayak rentals are still available year-round for use on the adjoining St. Johns River.
After manatee-watching, visitors can opt for a two-hour boat tour of the St. Johns River. The narrated nature cruises depart daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations can be made by calling Blue Springs Adventures at 833-953-2583. Anglers can try their luck fishing from the dock on the river, but lines aren’t allowed in the spring run.
To make a day of it, there are many picnic tables throughout the park, and a food concession with hot dogs and hamburgers is available for anyone that didn’t pack a lunch. The park also features two picnic areas with covered pavilions and grills to accommodate larger groups. The pavilions are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The park's history began in 1856, when Gold Rush prospector-turned-orange-grower- Louis Thursby- purchased Blue Spring. He built Thursby's Blue Spring Landing which became a bustling destination for steamboats transporting goods and travelers until Florida’s railroad was established.
In 1971, Jacques Cousteau filmed a television episode titled “The Forgotten Mermaids" which brought attention to manatees, as well as the importance of Blue Spring as a winter haven for the gentle giants. The airing of the documentary episode influenced the State of Florida's decision to purchase the land for its current use.
In addition to abundant wildlife, the park also features 51 scenic campsites within walking distance of the spring. Campsites are $24 per night plus tax plus a $7 nightly utility fee for water and electricity for RVs. Florida residents who are 65 years of age or older get a nice perk of a 50% discount on the current base campsite fees. For those who want a little more creature comforts, cabins are $95 per night plus a $7 nightly utility fee.
The park is located at 2100 W. French Avenue in Orange City and is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. until sundown. The cost is $5 per vehicle. Park guests should always plan to arrive early as the park reaches capacity early in the day.
Above: Phatom Airborne Brigade jump over Lake Dora on May 1, 2021 (Mount Dora Buzz photo)
It’s arguably the most impressive sight ever seen over Lake Dora. Last May, as a vintage military plane roared overhead, dozens of Airborne “jumpers'' parachuted into Lake Dora. On October 9, the jumpers will return, but this time approximately 100 daredevils will jump during multiple passes over the lake. The jumps, organized by Phantom Airborne Brigade, feature former military Airborne members parachuting from the Tico Belle, a vintage Douglas C-47 that dropped troops on D-day in Normandy and is now based in Titusville. The recreational brigade, based in Zephyrhills, will have multiple airlifts with approximately 25 jumpers per flight. The first jump is expected at approximately 10:30 a.m. After each lift there will be a 20 to 30 minute break for the plane to return to Leesburg airport to pick up the next lift of jumpers. The drops will start near the west end of Lake Dora near Tavares and continue east toward the center of the Tavares side of the lake.
Previously the group chose Lake Dora because it seemed to be one of the best lakes for public viewing. The drop area is a safe distance from observers and is closest to Wooton Park and Kalua Beach Bar, according to Chris Stephens, the event organizer. The jumpers will descend over Lake Dora and be plucked from the water by volunteer boaters that will have attended a safety briefing prior to participating. Follow Mount Dora Buzz on Instagram. For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, visit the area's websiteand download the area's free mobile app.
Above: Long & Scott corn maze (photo provided by Long & Scott farm)
Get lost! And have a blast doing it! The 19th annual Corn Maze Adventure at Long & Scott Farm returns on October 1 and continues through December 12. Located approximately seven miles southwest of Mount Dora, the seasonal attraction reportedly brings an estimated 1500-2000 weekend visitors. Guests that dare can enter the 6.5 acre corn maze and attempt to find their way out of the tall and twisting corn field designed in a dinosaur theme. If that’s not enough of a challenge, visitors can opt to tackle the maze at night. Whether day or night, there’s no need to panic. It's friendly fun, so before an anxiety attack kicks in, participants can raise a flag to surrender and be promptly rescued. There is also a half-acre mini-maze for smaller guests. The two mazes have lots of paths and plenty of room. Employees inside the maze and on a bridge monitor and help guests navigate the rows of corn. Visitors are asked to divide into groups of four to six people, with an adult in each group, and then enter the maze with a flag and a game sheet. The popular weekend attraction also includes a lot of fun outdoor activities for kids, including an oversized jumping pillow, 60' super slide, kids' zip line, a mist maze, plus catch-and-release fishing. Visitors can also take an audio tour of the farm on the hayride while learning about what we grow and our history. Food vendors are onsite, as well as a country market and cafe. Scott's Maze Adventure is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. between October 1 and December 12. Visitors should get there early to avoid long lines. Latest entry is 3 p.m. The farm is located at 26216 County Road 448A, Mount Dora. Admission is $15; children 3 and under are free. For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Discover the area's online entertainment calendar here. Also download the area's free mobile app.
ABOVE: A vista from Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (Mount Dora Buzz photo)
Pristinely beautiful, one of the best kept secrets of Central Florida lies just 15 minutes south of downtown Mount Dora.
Anyone who loves nature, wildlife and photography, will find this the perfect escape from the hustle of urban life. After driving through the gates, visitors are transported to an unspoiled version of Florida that’s elusive in day-to-day life. The 11-mile single lane meanders through vast wetlands and marshes which provide endless viewing of natural habitats with abundant wildlife. Alligators are ubiquitous and bird-watching is regarded as among the best in Florida with 369 species recorded. As visitors drive the leisurely 10-mile-per-hour speed limit, they may also spot raccoons, bears, armadillos and coyotes.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, part of St. Johns Water Management District, is located in the Lake Apopka North Shore. This area is the result of the restoration of former muck farms which transformed the area into an environmental sanctuary and recreational gem. Interestingly, the sprawling 20,000 acres that make up the Lake Apopka North Shore were once the northern part of Lake Apopka before the wetlands were separated from the lake in 1941 by a large levee. This reduced Lake Apopka from over 50,000 acres to approximately 30,000.
The slow, sometimes bumpy, scenic drive can take from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the number of cars and how many stops visitors make along the route. Bicyclists can ride in both directions on the 1.5-mile Lake Apopka Loop Trail segment which has four trailheads with restrooms at the Green Mountain, North Shore/McDonald Canal boat ramp and Magnolia Park trailheads and port-a-lets at the historic pump house. Drinking water isn’t provided along the trail, so visitors need to bring their own.
Outside of the Wildlife Drive, the North Shore property also includes trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The marked 6-mile-loop white trail on Clay Island features four observation towers, including one overlooking the west shoreline of Lake Apopka. The Red Trail offers 2.6 miles for visitors on foot, bike or horseback.
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive entrance gate is located at 2850 Lust Road in Apopka. Motorized vehicles are only allowed to enter between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. All vehicles must exit the drive by 5 p.m. Trailers are not permitted. The trail exits at Jones Avenue, and there are no exits midway.